The Great Villain Blogathon: Johnny Prince in Scarlet Street (1945)

Johnny Prince wouldn't win any Best Boyfriend awards.

Johnny Prince wouldn’t win any Best Boyfriend awards.

Johnny Prince in Scarlet Street (1945) is not a nice guy. At best, he’s a self-centered clod who’s not exactly in the running for “Boyfriend of the Year.”

At worst, he’s a dyed-in-the-wool villain.

Scarlet Street tells the story of a noirish triangle involving mild-mannered budding artist and cuckolded husband Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson), the attractive but morally bereft dame, Kitty March (Joan Bennett), who catches his eye, and Johnny Prince, the object of Kitty’s devotion (and the reason why we are able to possess a clear understanding of the phrase “There’s no accounting for taste”). When Kitty mistakenly believes that Chris is a famous and wealthy artist, Johnny doesn’t waste a minute in trying to capitalize on what he sees as a first-class ticket to Easy Street – even if it involves pimping out his girlfriend: “This bird is goofy about ya,” he tells Kitty. “Date him up! You don’t have to tap the old chump for much – not at first.”

When we first see Johnny, he's knocking Kitty around. And it won't be the last time.

When we first see Johnny, he’s knocking Kitty around. And it won’t be the last time.

Encouraging his girlfriend to use her feminine wiles for his financial benefit is just one manifestation of Johnny Prince’s special brand of villainy. But wait! There’s more!

  • When we first meet Johnny, he’s on a deserted street corner, smacking Kitty around, and even delivering a few kicks for good measure. Later, he blithely offers a rationale for his ire: “I had a chance to clean up in a crap game. All I needed was fifty bucks. And what did you show up with? Fifteen, for cat’s sake.”
  • Johnny has no qualms about reading Kitty’s personal mail – in fact, he unashamedly comments on a letter he finds from Chris to Kitty: “Sounds like a schoolboy tryin’ to make a date.”
  • Maybe we’re not positive what kind of hold Johnny has on Kitty, but he sure is. When Kitty balks at Johnny’s plan, he uses some very effective psychology, jumping up from the sofa in disgust, donning his hat and jacket, and heading for the door, on his way to a place “where [he] won’t be wasting his time.” As he intended, Kitty immediately chases after him and acquiesces to his proposition, even as she grudgingly observes that she doesn’t know why she’s so crazy about him. “Oh, yes, you do,” Johnny replies.

    Follow the fallen undies to Johnny as he goes shopping in Kitty's purse.

    Follow the fallen undies to Johnny as he goes shopping in Kitty’s purse.

  • After a night of debauchery with Kitty (illustrated most pointedly by the clothes strewn about the apartment), Johnny awakens from his drunken slumber, sits on the floor, and empties the contents of Kitty’s purse, pocketing all the money he finds. He even unearths a secret hiding place she has in her compact, and also takes the cash concealed there: “Say, is this all you’ve got?” he asks. And when Kitty protests, Johnny rejoins, “You know where to get more, don’t you, Lazylegs?”
  • Speaking of psychology, Johnny uses it again when he wants Kitty to up the ante; it’s not enough that Chris is paying for a swanky apartment for Kitty to live in – now Johnny wants her to wrangle a cool thousand dollars from Chris: “Listen, baby, you’ve got him right where you want him. He’s on the hook and can’t get off,” Johnny says, assuring Kitty that “it’s only blackmail when you’re dumb enough to get caught.

    In this scene, Johnny stops short of smacking Kitty: "If I wasn't a gentleman..."

    In this scene, Johnny stops short of smacking Kitty: “If I wasn’t a gentleman…”

  • In addition to his actions in his opening scene, Johnny demonstrates repeatedly that he doesn’t shrink from heaping physical and verbal abuse on Kitty. In a lounge near Kitty’s home, the couple is having a discussion about Chris’s artwork when Kitty calls Johnny “crazy.” He raises his hand to strike her, stopping himself with the incongruous reflection: “If I weren’t a gentleman…” He doesn’t show such restraint later, though, when he not only manipulates Kitty into taking credit for Chris’s artwork, but encourages her to get – shall we say, friendly? – with the famed art dealer who has taken an interest in the paintings. When Kitty hesitates, telling Johnny that she’d walk out on him if she “had any sense,” Johnny delivers two quick slaps to her face and informs her, “You haven’t got any sense.”  And during what turns out to be their final encounter, Johnny berates Kitty after they learn that Chris has seen them: “What use are my brains if I’m tied up with a dumb cluck like you?” He smacks her. “That’s the only thing you even understand. I’m through with you.”

Like many a screen villain, Johnny Prince gets his comeuppance at the conclusion of Scarlet Street – and he gets it in a big way.

Just in case you haven’t seen the film, I’ll refrain from revealing the circumstances, but suffice it to say that it’s a humdinger. In fact, you almost feel sorry for him.

Almost.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Ruth at Silver Screenings, Kristina at Speakeasy, and yours truly. Click on Barbara Stanwyck in the picture above to check out the many great posts of villainy being presented as part of this event! Or else!

~ by shadowsandsatin on April 20, 2014.

30 Responses to “The Great Villain Blogathon: Johnny Prince in Scarlet Street (1945)”

  1. Great review. One of the greatest villains . Love your comment about no accounting for taste!

  2. Johnny Prince. I love the irony replete in that name. Strictly a small-timer, but the damage he does is big time.

    Excellent article on a villain of the first order who doesn’t always get his due.

  3. Nicely done and yes I have seen this one. I always endorse anything where Duryea is prominently on display.

  4. Longtime reader, first-time commenter. Fantastic review! I have no idea why I’ve been putting off watching “Scarlet Street”, but I’m bumping it higher on my to-watch list.

    • Thank you so much — for both reading and commenting! I hope you get to see Scarlet Street soon (and boy am I glad I didn’t spoil it for you). I’d love to know what you think of it after you see it.

  5. […] Dan Duryea in Scarlet Street at Shadows and Satin […]

  6. You caught me at the right time for this one! I’m in an off-Dan Duryea phase right now, so any villain role is extra villainous! He really seemed like he might have been a bit of a handful in real life, don’t you think? Thanks for the fun review…I have to check this one out, once he’s off the doghouse list.

    • Hi, Clayton — once Dan is back on your good side, I think you’ll enjoy this one. Interestingly, Dan Duryea in real life was nothing at all like his on-screen roles; he was educated at an Ivy League university, was married to the same woman for 35 years, was active in the PTA at his sons’ school, and spent his free time creating oil paintings, cultivating his garden, and building sailboats in his backyard. Who knew?!

      • Not me, that’s for sure. 🙂 I wonder if that’s the reason he was so over-the-top as a bad guy in NIGHT PASSAGE? He was just such a nice guy that he had to try too hard to be bad? 🙂

        Thanks again for the suggestion; I’ll be watching this one.

  7. There are few character actors out there who could handle this role. Duryea has the ability to be slimy and contemptible, yet we, as the viewers, can’t help but smile each time he graces the screen. What a low-life.

    Great post, and thanks for the wonderfully entertaining blogathon!

    • Thanks, Paul — I love your very apt description of Duryea’s performances. You are right on — he plays the most awful characters, and whenever he’s off-screen, you’re just waiting for him to return to give you more!

  8. Duryea is great and to me, makes everything better, like cheddar, or gravy. Also one of those examples of a real life nice guy being so good at badness and so easy to hate in movies. Great choice!

  9. I haven’t seen this so thanks for not sharing the ending, but it must be a BIG humdinger if you’re almost moved to sympathy following that list of villainous acts!

  10. I didn’t feel sorry for Johnny in the end!
    This is such an interesting film noir, because in most of them the femm fatale leads the man to a sad destiny, and in Scarlet Street there is an evil man behind the femme fatale! I truly believe joan Bennett wasn’t responsible for what happens to Edward G. Robinson. She is a little more responsible for his “fate” in The Woman in The Window, but even in this one she isn’t the femme fatale.
    Thanks for the kind comment and for co-hosting this great blogathon!
    Kisses!

    • I love your analysis, Le — and I agree that Johnny was the evil behind Kitty. Still, she exhibited her own fatal traits by allowing the evil to happen and being a conduit. But it certainly never would have happened without Johnny. She seemed to have fun deceiving Chris in the beginning, but it never would have gone any further if it hadn’t been for Johnny’s machinations.

  11. This blogathon would not be complete without Dan Duryea OR “Scarlett Street”. Duryea is sooo good in this film. It is time to see this one again!

  12. Johnny was as pimp as a pimp could be during the heyday of the code. Love the way Dureya delivered “Oh, yes you do!” and how he calls Kitty “Lazylegs”. Johnny is truly an oily villain.

  13. Great review! I liked The Woman in the Window better, but his character in this film was far more disturbing. Just the way he keeps saying “Lazylegs” alone….Only Duryea could make this creep compelling to watch. Leah

    • Thanks, Leah! I like Woman in the Window — up until the copout ending, which has always given me a pain. I totally agree that Duryea was perfect for this role!

  14. I love this movie! Never could understand why she stayed with such a loser of a man. And you do feel a little…ah more like itty-bitty sorry for the loser, but I think I felt even sorrier for Chris. Poor sap. Duryea could play a loser like no other😀 Great post!

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I figure Johnny must have really, er, brought something to the table, if you know what I mean. Either that, or Kitty was just a glutton for punishment!

  15. Dan Duryea is fabulous in both this and Woman in the Window, though I seriously hate the ending of that one – as opposed to the truly fantastic ending of Scarlet Street. Really enjoyed your review!

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